The Hoboken City Council this past Wednesday took another step in a federally funded flood prevention program authorized after Hurricane Sandy.
Also at the meeting, the council said goodbye to the city’s fire chief and advanced a redevelopment plan for the city’s west side.
Rebuild by Design
On Wednesday, the council voted to give the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) permission to access an unknown number of city-owned sites for the next two years in order to conduct a feasibility study for new flood prevention structures.
The future infrastructure, which may include flood walls, berms and water-retaining parks, will be funded by a $230 million grant awarded to New Jersey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last year for flood mitigation in Hoboken and its riverfront neighbors. Though the $230 million was disbursed to the state, it is Hoboken’s prize for winning the “Rebuild by Design” competition with a comprehensive anti-flooding strategy it developed along with an international trio of firms.
The concept outlines how to resist, delay, store, and discharge stormwater in Hoboken, southern Weehawken, and northeastern Jersey City in the event of a Superstorm Sandy-level storm event.
Because the HUD grant is a federal funding stream, New Jersey must generate an Environmental Impact Statement and feasibility study before any money is actually handed over. The end result of the study will be rough preliminary concepts for what New Jersey hopes to build in Hoboken.
State officials were on hand at the Wednesday, June 3 City Council meeting to explain the process.
“Thirty-eight years shouldn’t stand in the way of four people.”–Richard Blohm
The contract allows access to public sites until January 2017, but New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Christine Baker said that the vast majority of the study work should be done within 9 months.
Reinknecht promised that the state would keep Hoboken elected officials in the loop and leave locations the way they found them.
“The agreement does require us to give advance notice to the city,” said Baker, “to the extent that any of these activities are going to disrupt or interfere with anything…and to take any reasonable steps to minimize the interference that you might request.”
The City Council unanimously approved the site access agreement with the state.
NJDEP said it will also need to look at county and private-owned sites in Hoboken, but it must receive separate permission from the relevant entities. For example, the BASF site in northwest Hoboken, which the city is currently trying to procure from a private owner for park space, was indicated on a map of potential study sites provided by state officials on Wednesday.
The public kickoff meeting for the Rebuild by Design project is scheduled to be held on Tuesday, June 23 in Hoboken, and Reinknecht said he wanted to be able to tell the public at that gathering that he had already proposed specific activities to the contractor for the impact study, Dewberry Engineers, and begun preliminary work—hence the presentation of the site access agreement on Wednesday, three weeks in advance.
City says goodbye to outgoing fire chief
At the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, City Council members and Mayor Dawn Zimmer took time out to honor Fire Chief Richard Blohm, who retired this past Monday after 38 years with the Hoboken Fire Department, the final eight as chief.
“As long as I’ve been a council member and as long as I’ve known Fire Chief Blohm,” said City Council President Ravi Bhalla, “he’s always been a consummate professional and a consummate leader of the Fire Department and of our community.”
“When I think about your role in Hoboken,” Zimmer said to Blohm, “I was thinking about Sandy and our night together in Sandy. As you said, that’s a night we wish never happened, but we can’t thank you and everyone in the Fire Department enough for the role that you played in making sure that absolutely everyone was safe through the storm.”
In an impromptu speech, Blohm made a point of thanking his firefighters and support staff.
“The men and women of the Fire Department are some the most professional, empathetic, and best trained individuals and it’s been a privilege and an honor not only to work side by side with them but also to be their fire chief,” said Blohm.
He noted that the Hoboken Fire Department was one of just around 50 fire agencies nationwide to receive the highest rating for its property fire suppression from insurance advisory group ISO.
A high ISO rating “reduces fire insurance premiums for both residential and commercial structures, so there’s a giveback to the city for [Hoboken firefighters] being as highly trained as they are.”
Blohm said he was confident that any of his seven battalion chiefs could successfully replace him.
Part of his rationale for retiring now is that it would allow one of his battalion chiefs to become fire chief, one of his captains to become battalion chief, one of his firefighters to become captain, and a new recruit to become a firefighter.
“Thirty-eight years shouldn’t stand in the way of four people,” said Blohm.
He also could not look forward to any additional structured salary increases, having already reached the maximum salary available to him based on seniority.
Zimmer will soon appoint a provisional fire chief to lead the department while she searches for Blohm’s permanent replacement.
This process entails administering a Civil Service Chief’s test to Fire Department officers and conducting a series of interviews with the highest scoring candidates. The mayor will then select a chief and the City Council will approve their contract.
Though Blohm is retiring from Hoboken, he plans to continue working in fire administration. He is considering offers from both Bergen County and Washington, D.C., though Blohm said his wife would prefer for him to stay close to their residence in Paramus.
Since joining the department in 1977, Blohm has served as a tour commander, special operations officer, chief of hazmat team, chief of training, and deputy chief. In 2007, he was named acting chief, and was made the permanent chief two years later.
Blohm has also served for many years as a commissioner on the New Jersey Fire Safety Commission.
Other city business
The Redevelopment Plan for the Western Edge Redevelopment Area was introduced at Wednesday’s meeting. The 78-page document, prepared by city contractor Maser Consulting in conjunction with Zimmer administration officials and the City Council North Subcommittee, sets the parameters for new development in an 11-acre portion of northwest Hoboken along the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail tracks. (See last week’s cover story for a more comprehensive description of the plan and process at hudsonreporter.com.)
The Western Edge area is populated mostly by underutilized warehouses, and many want to see new retail businesses and residential buildings along the strip, but the current zoning allows only industrial and office uses.
The Western Edge Redevelopment Plan will now go to the Hoboken Planning Board for a hearing on whether it is in concurrence with the city’s master plan. The Planning Board can recommend or oppose the Western Edge plan and suggest changes. Subsequently, the plan will return to City Council for a final vote, where it can be officially enacted or rejected.
Carlo Davis may be reached at email@example.com.